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Showing posts from July, 2013

Egyptian army steps in to demand political truce

Egypt's army stepped in to a deepening political crisis on Sunday to demand that the Islamist government and its opponents settle their differences and warned that it would act to stop violence spinning out of control. Issued a week before mass rallies to demand the resignation of President Mohamed Mursi, and following days of friction and increasingly aggressive rhetoric between factions, the statement by the armed forces chief was the most powerful since generals ceded control to civilians after Mursi's election a year ago.   "There is a state of division in society," General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Facebook. "Prolonging it poses a danger to the Egyptian state. There must be consensus among all. "We will not remain silent as the country slips into a conflict that is hard to control. There seemed no direct threat to the president from an army that seems to accept its new constitutional role. After Mursi met Sisi, a presidency source called it a &

Qatar ruler to meet ruling family amid handover reports: Al Jazeera

The ruler of Qatar will meet members of the ruling family and decision makers in the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state on Monday "amid reports that he intends to hand over power to his crown prince, Sheikh Tamim", the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera television reported. _0"> The satellite channel said it had learned of the news from "reliable Qatari sources", but provided no further details.   Diplomats said earlier this month that an orderly transfer of power, which would also include the powerful prime minister stepping down, was being considered. (Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Al Qaeda says hostages in North Africa alive, open to talks

Eight hostages, including five from France , being held by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are safe, the Islamist group said in a statement posted on its Twitter account on Saturday. The statement coincided with rallies across France organised by the families of French hostages who were seized in Niger in September 2010 to mark more than 1,000 days of captivity.   French newspapers reported this week that the hostages had been transferred to Algeria and were in the hands of AQIM's new chief, Yahia Abou el Hamam. The French government declined to comment on the report. "We would like to assure the family and relatives of the hostages of the safety of their children," said the message, posted by AQIM's Andalus Media arm. The message repeated previous statements by AQIM that it would kill the hostages if there were any new French military intervention in North Africa, but said it remained open to negotiations to free them. "Although we are nearing thre

Mandela's health worsens, condition now 'critical'

Former South African president Nelson Mandela's condition deteriorated to "critical" on Sunday, the government said, two weeks after the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader was admitted to hospital with a lung infection. The worsening of his condition is bound to concern South Africa's 53 million people, for whom Mandela remains the architect of a peaceful transition to democracy in 1994 after three centuries of white domination.   A government statement said President Jacob Zuma and the deputy leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa, visited Mandela in his Pretoria hospital, where doctors said his condition had gone downhill in the last 24 hours. "The doctors are doing everything possible to get his condition to improve and are ensuring that Madiba is well looked after and is comfortable," it said, referring to him by his clan name. Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president after historic all-race electio

Japan ruling bloc sweeps Tokyo poll, on track for upper house win

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc swept to victory in a weekend Tokyo election, a sign it's on track for a hefty win in a July national vote that could strengthen Abe's hand as he aims to end economic stagnation and bolster defence. Politicians and pundits have been eyeing the outcome of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election for clues to how well Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, the New Komeito, will fare in a July 21 election for parliament's upper house that opinion polls suggest they will win handily. "We have received a good evaluation of our handling of the government over the past six months," Abe, who campaigned heavily for the local vote, told reporters. "We would like to do our very best so people can feel that the economy is recovering as soon as possible," Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying. The LDP won 59 seats in the 127-member Tokyo assembly, regaining the top spot it lost four years

Qatar readies new leadership, little policy change expected

Qatar appeared on Monday to be readying its population of nearly 2 million for new leadership that could see the emir and prime minister step down, a move analysts say would not herald big changes in energy, investment or foreign policies. The tiny country, the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, is a global investment powerhouse, a growing force in international media and sport, and a financial backer of Arab Spring revolts in alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.   The Qatari-owed al Jazeera television channel said the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, 61, would meet ruling family members and decision makers on Monday "amid reports that he intends to hand over power to his crown prince, Sheikh Tamim". The satellite channel said it had learned of the news from "reliable Qatari sources", but provided no further details. Diplomats said this month that the emir was considering an orderly transfer of power that would probably begin with

Police remove flagpole at center of Afghan, Taliban row

Police have removed a flagpole from the Taliban's office in Qatar, an official said on Sunday, expunging the last visible sign of official decoration that riled the Afghan government and derailed nascent peace talks. The Taliban was due to hold discussions with U.S. officials in Qatar last Thursday - originally raising hopes the meeting could develop into full-blown negotiations to end Afghanistan's 12-year-old war.   But the session was canceled when the Afghan government objected to the fanfare surrounding the militants' opening of an office in the Gulf state, complete with flag and official plaques. Kabul said the regalia gave the mistaken impression the militants - who ruled Afghanistan until they were ousted by the U.S. offensive starting in 2001 - had achieved some measure of global recognition. The flag and a plaque were removed late last week amid frantic diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute. The flagpole was no longer visible at the building on Sunday.

Syrian rebels renew fight for Aleppo

Syrian rebels battled President Bashar al-Assad's forces in and around the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, seeking to reverse gains made by loyalist forces in the commercial hub over the last two months, activists said. The fighting, by a variety of insurgent groups, happened as France urged moderate rebels to wrest territory back from radical Islamists whose role in the fight to topple Assad poses a dilemma for Western countries concerned that arms shipments could fall into the hands of people it considers terrorists.   The 11 Western and Arab countries known as the "Friends of Syria " agreed on Saturday to give urgent military support to the rebels, channeled through the Western-backed Supreme Military Council in a bid to prevent arms getting to Islamist radicals. But radical forces showed they remained formidable on Sunday when the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham brigade detonated a car bomb at a roadblock at an entrance to Aleppo killing at least 12 loyalist soldiers,

Japan ruling bloc sweeps Tokyo poll, on track for upper house win

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc swept to victory in a weekend Tokyo election, a sign it's on track for a hefty win in a July national vote that could strengthen Abe's hand as he aims to end economic stagnation and bolster defense. Politicians and pundits had been eyeing the outcome of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election for clues to how well Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, the New Komeito, will fare in a July 21 election for parliament's upper house that opinion polls suggest they will win handily. "We have received a good evaluation of our handling of the government over the past six months," Abe, who campaigned heavily for the local vote, told reporters. "We would like to do our very best so people can feel that the economy is recovering as soon as possible." All of the LDP's 59 candidates won seats in the 127-member Tokyo assembly to regain the top spot. It was the party's biggest victo

Australia PM hits out at critics amid leadership turmoil

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard hit out at critics of her record on Monday as speculation intensified of a fresh challenge to her leadership and opinion polls showed her divided Labor Party headed for a catastrophic September election defeat. With Labor on track for a record low vote following months of tensions between Gillard and her main rival, Kevin Rudd, senior backers of the prime minister called for an end to the impasse.   "We certainly can't have this go on. It's just got to be resolved," said Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, one of Gillard's most senior ministers, calling for opponents to come clean and mount a party leadership ballot this week. "We can't have this kind of speculation continuing on through the election." A Newspoll in the Australian newspaper was the latest to show conservative opponents leading the government, with 57 percent support compared to 43 percent for Labor. Opposition leader Tony Abbott ha

Analysis: Electing the EU Commission chief - a dumb bright idea?

It seemed like a bright idea at the time. By linking the choice of president of the executive European Commission to the European Parliament elections in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, EU leaders hoped to reverse rising abstentionism and overcome Europe's widely bemoaned "democratic deficit".   If voters around the soon-to-be-28-nation European Union were given a real policy choice personified by a single candidate, they would identify more easily with "Europe" and vote in greater numbers, the theory went. That in turn would give greater legitimacy to the European Commission, which proposes and enforces EU laws but which critics often denigrate as unelected and undemocratic. "For the first time these could be genuine 'European' elections, the outcome of which will shape European politics for at least the next five years," said Simon Hix, professor of European governance at the London School of Economics. "It will be the first time we, as E

Israeli air strikes hit Gaza after Palestinian rocket fire

Israel carried out air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Monday in response to Palestinian militant rocket fire that broke weeks of relative calm along the frontier. _0"> No casualties were reported in the incidents. Six rockets were fired into Israel overnight, causing no damage, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Two of them were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, the military said.   Israeli aircraft later struck targets in the Gaza Strip, including two weapons storage facilities, the military said, and Israel closed one of its the crossings with the coastal territory, which is controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas. No group claimed responsibility for the Palestinian rocket fire. Officials in Gaza said two of six Israeli air strikes struck training camps for the militant group Islamic Jihad. In a separate incident, tires were slashed on 21 cars in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem in what appeared to be another in a ser

Russia defiant as U.S. raises pressure over Snowden

The United States on Monday increased pressure on Russia to hand over Edward Snowden, the American charged with disclosing secret U.S. surveillance programs, and said it believed he was still in Moscow despite reports he was leaving for Cuba . Earlier Snowden, until recently a contractor with the U.S. National Security Agency, had been expected to fly to Havana from Moscow, perhaps on the way to Ecuador, but he was not seen on the plane and Russian officials declined to say where he was.   The U.S. State Department said diplomats and Justice Department officials were engaged in discussions with Russia , suggesting they were looking for a deal to secure his return. "Given our intensified cooperation working with Russia on law enforcement matters ... we hope that the Russian government will look at all available options to return Mr. Snowden back to the U.S. to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged," spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters. Snowden flew t

Russia's Putin switches economy minister to the Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Andrei Belousov as his top economic adviser on Monday, beefing up his Kremlin staff with an advocate of a big state role in the economy as part of a wider rotation of his policy team. _0"> As economy minister, Belousov came under fire from Russia's liberal policy establishment by calling for the state to determine bank lending rates, which he argues would unblock the flow of affordable credit to the economy.   Belousov will be replaced by Alexei Ulyukayev, who is moving from the central bank after being beaten to the top job there by Elvira Nabiullina, who formally assumed her role on Monday after a year as the Kremlin's 'chief economist'. The job moves, which had been flagged in advance, set the scene for a shift towards a more activist approach to managing Russia's economy as policymakers seek to engineer a recovery at a time of still-high inflation. "This is all being done to embark on a dynamic stimul

White House expects Russia to look at all options to expel Snowden back to U.S.

The White House on Monday said it expects the Russian government to "look at all options available" to expel former government contractor Edward Snowden back to the United States to face espionage charges. _0"> The White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the United States also registered strong objections to authorities in Hong Kong and China through diplomatic channels at the decision to let Snowden flee.   And "noted that such behavior is detrimental to U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S.-China bilateral relations," Hayden said. (Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

South Africans resigned over 'critical' Mandela

South Africans adopted a mood of sombre resignation on Monday to the inevitability of saying goodbye to former president Nelson Mandela after the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader's condition in hospital deteriorated to critical. Madiba, as he is affectionately known, is revered among most of South Africa's 53 million people as the architect of the 1994 transition to multi-racial democracy after three centuries of white domination.   However, his latest hospitalization - his fourth in six months - has reinforced a realization that the father of the post-apartheid "Rainbow Nation" will not be around for ever. President Jacob Zuma, who visited Mandela late on Sunday with African National Congress (ANC) Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, reflected the national mood when he told a news conference that Mandela remained critical. "All of us in the country must accept that Madiba is now old. As he ages, his health will trouble him," Zuma said, declining to giv

Tiger mauls worker at exotic feline sanctuary in Indiana

A tiger kept at an Indiana sanctuary for abused and neglected felines mauled a caretaker who was cleaning the animal's pen on Friday, gripping the woman's head in its mouth at one point in an attack that left the victim in critical condition, authorities said. Co-workers at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center broke off the attack by the 18-year-old tiger by spraying the animal in the face with water, then luring it away from the woman with food, the Clay County Sheriff's Department said in a statement.   The caretaker, Marrisa Dub, 21, was flown by helicopter to Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis, 65 miles southwest of the sanctuary, authorities said. A fellow worker was alerted to the midday attack by Dub's screams and ran to the tiger's cage to find the tiger grasping Dub by her head with its jaws, facility director Joe Taft told investigators. It was then that the tiger, named Raja, was doused with water and lured away to allow Dub to be rescued from the pen. The

Crews break ground on largest California dam removal

Demolition crews on Friday began work on the biggest dam removal in California, a project aimed at protecting homes threatened by the aging, obsolete structure and restoring spawning grounds for native trout. Plans call for the 94-year-old San Clemente Dam, built on the Carmel River about 120 miles south of San Francisco, to be torn down in stages over three years, followed by rerouting of the river around the dam site and wildlife restoration.   "In 10 years, when you come to the site, you won't be able to tell there was a dam there," said Jeff Szytel, founder of contractor Water Systems Consulting, who is overseeing the project. The demolition is part of a larger safety and restoration effort that will include removal of a smaller dam downstream from San Clemente and recycling of sediment that has built up in the reservoir behind the dam. The dam was designed to divert Carmel River water to the Monterey Peninsula, but with the reservoir nearly filled with silt tha

Snowden extradition battle in Hong Kong could go on for years

A former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor charged with spying by the United States and in hiding in Hong Kong is expected to be the subject of a formal extradition request at any time in what could drag into a legal battle lasting years. Since making his revelations about massive U.S. surveillance programs, legal sources in Hong Kong say Edward Snowden, 30, has sought legal representation from human rights lawyers as he prepares to fight U.S. attempts to force him home for trial.   U.S. authorities have charged Snowden with theft of U.S. government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person, with the latter two charges coming under the U.S. Espionage Act. The United States and Hong Kong signed an extradition treaty which came into effect in 1998, a year after Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule. Scores of Americans have been sent back ho

Pentagon flash drive ban has many exceptions

The Pentagon has granted many exceptions, possibly numbering in the thousands, to allow staff members who administer secure computer networks to use flash drives and other portable storage devices, department spokesmen say. The exceptions to policies barring the use of such devices could make it easier for rogue employees to remove sensitive documents. But officials say waivers go to people who update software and run helpdesk services for the Pentagon's vast computer network and are needed to run the system efficiently.   The U.S. government's handling of sensitive documents has come under scrutiny since Edward Snowden, a systems administrator for a contractor with the National Security Administration, copied classified materials at a Hawaii installation and leaked them to the news media. Snowden used a simple flash drive to store the materials, according to a government source close to the investigation. Storage devices have been a concern at the Defense Department sinc

Southwest flights delayed, canceled after computer glitch

Southwest Airlines Co canceled or delayed about 250 flights overnight and early on Saturday due to a system-wide outage of computers used to dispatch aircraft, said a spokeswoman for the airline. _0"> The Dallas-based airline said 43 overnight flights were canceled as a result of the outage, which began around 11 p.m. EDT on Friday (0300 GMT on Saturday) and lasted until about 3 a.m. on Saturday (0700 GMT), said Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Michelle Agnew.   Another 14 morning flights were canceled due to "flight crew availability and aircraft positioning" after the outage ended, she said. Most of the cancellations affected routes in the western United States, Agnew said. Flights that were already airborne were not affected by the outage, while planes on the ground were held back, she said, adding that the cause of the computer failure was unknown. Southwest, which operates some 3,400 flights daily, said in a statement on its website that its "systems are

Miami pet-rescue plan seeks unusual property tax funding

Rather than euthanize unwanted cats and dogs, politicians in Florida's Miami-Dade County are proposing a special property tax that would pay for saving the animals for possible adoption. Lawmakers gave initial approval this week to a plan that would raise $20 million annually for the pet fund, amounting to about $20 per homeowner per year.   The money would be used to fund a variety of programs to make the county a "no kill" zone, where at least 90 percent of abandoned animals would be protected until new homes are found. Last year the county euthanized almost 12,000 animals. Each year, about 8 million stray and unwanted animals are taken in by shelters across the United States, with almost half being euthanized when homes can't be found for them, according to the American Humane Association. The Miami-Dade County plan would include expanding free and low-cost spay and neutering services to reduce the homeless population on the streets, adding veterinarians and